Colorado Business Hall of Fame Laureates: Bob & Joanna Sakata
The five laureates inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame for 2015 represent the state’s most distinguished group of business leaders from past and present, selected for their professional contributions to the state as well as their community service.
Bob Sakata, who with his wife, Joanna, owns Sakata Farms in Brighton, says people come to visit all the time, and not because they want to know more about the vegetables the farm grows.
“Real estate agents are always knocking on our door,” he says. But his family is keeping the farm, which grows sweet corn, onions, cabbage and pinto beans. The farm’s work force totals about 30 people, down from a peak of 400 several years ago. Sakata’s son, Robert (R.T.), runs the business now.
Bob Sakata has no plans to retire. “It’s strange, but years ago I was working day and night and I was looking forward to someday accumulating enough to retire and travel the world,” he says. “Now I don’t want to.”
He has traveled, though. When the emperor and empress of Japan visited Colorado they toured Sakata Farms and invited Sakata to visit Japan. He spoke at Yamagata University, which offers agricultural and other studies on its campus north of Tokyo. Sakata also traveled to Spain and Holland when he was president of the National Onion Association.
He worries about changing regulations and proposed rules, such as the GMO ballot measure that in the end did not pass. He still sees strength in the U.S. system. “The thing that made this country so great is the freedom we were all able to exercise, and within the freedom is the enterprise system of entrepreneurship. As long as you worked harder and smarter, you could get ahead,” he says.
There was a time when he and his family were not free. Sakata was born in San Jose, Calif., in 1926 to immigrants from Japan. In 1941 he and his family were relocated to an internment camp in Utah for the duration of World War II. Afterward they relocated to Brighton, where Sakata soon started his own farm and became active in community efforts. He was a founding father of Brighton Community Hospital, which is now Platte Valley Medical Center. He is also a past president of the Brighton Japanese American Association and of the Japan America Society of Colorado.
Sakata supports Colorado Proud and the buy local movement. He remains concerned about water, but is optimistic, as the farm has long had surface water rights. Also the weather has helped. “This has been one of the best water years I have ever had in 69 years of farming,” he says. “Water is a very challenging thing here. The public doesn’t really understand how important it is.”
Through the years
1926 Bob Sakata is born in San Jose, Calif.
1935 Joanna Sakata is born in Brighton.
1941 Bob Sakata and his family are relocated to an internment camp in Utah during World War II.
1942 Sakata is released from the internment camp and moves to Colorado, where he starts his own farm.
1960 Brighton Community Hospital opens. Sakata and other members of the community helped raise funds to build the hospital, which was the first private general medical-surgical hospital in Adams and southern Weld Counties.
1999 Colorado Department of Agriculture launches Colorado Proud to raise consumer awareness about buying local produce.
2013 Sakata turns over management of Sakata Farms to his son, R.T.